Skip the navigation

Eyeing Intel, Nvidia's Ion wins three votes of confidence

Ion netbooks running Vista could be out by summer, following Microsoft certification today

By Eric Lai
February 11, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Nvidia Inc.'s Ion, a CPU-and-graphics platform that the graphics chip maker hopes can help loosen Intel Corp.'s grip on the fast-growing netbook business, has garnered three key endorsements.

Most important is Microsoft Corp.'s announcement today that it had certified Ion-based PCs to run Windows Vista Home Premium.

Nvidia also announced today that one unnamed PC maker planned to build a mini-PC using the Ion platform. And No. 3 PC maker Acer Inc. said earlier this week that it is interested in building Ion-based PCs this year.

Ion is an Nvidia design that combines its GeForce 9400M GPU, the mobile version of one of its most powerful graphics processors, with an Intel Atom CPU.

The motherboard, amount of RAM and other specifications are not dictated by Nvidia, said company spokesman Ken Brown, but most expect Ion systems to use mini-motherboards suited for netbooks and mini-PCs.

Microsoft said its testing showed that Ion-based PCs will be able to deliver 1080p HD video, including Blu-ray movies; "exciting" video-game play using DirectX 10 video technology; support for premium Vista features such Aero Glass and Flip3D; and faster video transcoding and photo editing because of the Nvidia graphics chip.

Jon Peddie, an analyst at Jon Peddie Research, said the Vista certification is a "critically important" affirmation for Ion.

"Netbook builders haven't been able to get satisfactory operation with Vista. Part of the issue -- maybe all of it -- is the graphics," Peddie said in an e-mail. "Nvidia's theme is 'build a better notebook' with Atom by using Ion. And the proof of that is the certification."

It's an XP netbook world

With rare exceptions, such as Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Mini 2140 business netbook, virtually all netbooks today run Windows XP rather than Vista. That's partly because of XP's lower cost, but mostly because they lack the horsepower to support Vista, said Ian Lao, an analyst at In-Stat. The under-the-hood limitations prevent most netbooks from showing HD video, supporting more than one external display or playing the latest video games, he said.

Lao said that Ion delivers better performance than competing designs using Intel's integrated graphics chips, and at a similar price.

Nvidia promises that PC makers will start to deliver small and slim Vista PCs based on Ion this summer, for as little as $299, said Brown.

Nvidia has already released Windows 7 drivers for Ion, said Brown. He declined to comment on when Ion would be certified for Windows 7. Microsoft's upcoming OS is based on Vista but is widely reported to require fewer system resources than its predecessor.

While the most focus has been on Ion's potential to boost netbooks, Nvidia said today at a press conference in Taiwan that its first confirmed Ion customer is an unnamed PC maker that plans to build a mini-PC.

Our Commenting Policies